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Length 4
text, words, vertical rows, ordered, alphabetical, a-z, language,ambiguous language, hand printed, lists, pattern,popular art, humour, satire, four-letter words, categorize, sequential, communication, semantics, dictionary,composition, lithograph, print, work on paper,pattern, black and white, upper case letters, vertical, media,rectangular format, flat tone, rectangular format, revise, alter, censorship, compile, strike out, proof read, lithograph, pop art, text, text as image, error, language, bookwork series, classsification,
description

Gerald Ferguson’s Length 4 is an image made up entirely of text, but unlike Grant Kernan’s Untitled, this work does not shape its text into an image but rather allows its text to make up the entirety of the image by taking up the whole of the picture plane--because of the arrangement of the mass of text, we could even say that this is not a picture of anything but text.

The title, Length 4, is a reference to the fact that all of the words contained in this piece are English 4-letter words. The crossed-out words are not wrong words, but are errors in printing (the inconsistencies of letter size and shape tell us that these were likely printed by hand, and so the crossing-out signifies an error on the part of the writer).

start quotethe idea for a dictionary arranged by word length grew out of a series of pages of single letters of the alphabet that I typed as graphics in 1968, and which represented efforts to extend ideas, then current, relating to modular composition, objectively determined forms and the material status of printed letters.end quote -- Gerald Ferguson

The term “4-letter word” is also another name for a curse word or a swear. Ferguson’s work here humourously suggests that because these are all 4-letter words, they are equally objectionable, and satirizes the idea of the “bad” word or the parts of our language that we consider to be inelegant or not properly formed.

In reading this image, it also becomes important to know that this is part of a series. Ferguson created a bookwork - a piece of art that is bound and sequential the way a book is - called The Standard Corpus of Present Day English Language Usage Arranged by Word Length and Alphabetized Within Word Length. He states, “the idea for a dictionary arranged by word length grew out of a  seriesA number of things or events standing or succeeding in order, and connected by a like relation; sequence; order; course; a succession of things; as, a continuous series of calamitous events. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  of pages of single letters of the alphabet that I typed as graphics in 1968, and which represented efforts to extend ideas, then current, relating to modular composition, objectively determined forms and the material status of printed letters.” (Ferguson, 1978)

By categorizing words in this way, Ferguson is asking us to question the ways in which we use and classify our language. And because we think of the world through language, he asks us also to look at the ways in which we classify and divide up our world.

additional resources Things to Think About
Studio Activity

Letter images

  • Using a computer and word processor or a typewriter, “draw” an image consisting only of letters, as Gerald Ferguson has done in Length 4.


  • Think of the properties of the letters as you do this, the amount of space they take up, and the darkness they add to the page (a “W” uses far more space than an “i”, but “IIII” is darker than a single “W”).


  • Will the letters you use form any words?


  • Will your work be a recognizable image, or will it be abstract?
References

Author unknown.  ‘Gerald Ferguson’. Press Release. Gallerie Lallouz & Watterson, Montreal, Quebec, June 1993.

Author unknown.  ‘Gerald Ferguson: New Paintings’. Press Release. Wynick/Tuck Gallery, Toronto, Ontario, March 1, 2002.

Author unknown.  ‘Gerald Ferguson’, Cybermuse, http://cybermuse.gallery.ca/cybermuse/docs/bio_artistid1744_e.jsp. Retrieved from the Internet March 13, 2009.

Dault, Gary Michael.  ‘Back-door Beauty:  The Frotagge Paintings of Gerald Ferguson.’  Canadian Art, March 1, 2008.  Retrieved from the Internet on August 24, 2008 from:  http://www.canadianart.ca/art/features/2008/03/01/back-door-beauty/

Ferguson, Gerald.  The Standard Corpus of Present Day English Language Usage Arranged by Word Length and Alphabetized Within Word Length.  Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1978.

Mays, John Bentley. ‘Modernity loses its grip.’  Globe and Mail, November 10, 1990.

 

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning